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Aussie Kluger on Toyota wishlist

Triple treat: The Kluger will be sold in three grades – CV, CVX and Grande – starting at just over $40,000.

Toyota hatches plan for a third Altona model line

4 Sep 2003

TOYOTA Australia wants to be building a cross-over wagon locally as its third local model line around 2011, as part of a plan to double production at its Altona plant to 200,000 cars per annum.

Toyota senior executive vice-president John Conomos outlined the ambitious plan to a recent media briefing, at which the Kluger mid-size all-wheel drive was also previewed.

The Japanese-built Kluger, which goes on sale on October 8, is exactly the sort of vehicle Mr Conomos and co have in mind for the plant’s expansion.

Powered by the 172kW 3.3-litre V6 VVT-i engine and five-speed automatic gearbox which is also found in the Lexus RX330, the Kluger sits on the same Toyota Modular Platform as the locally-built Camry and Avalon.

Power is transmitted to all four wheels via a viscous coupling system and there is no low range gearing.

It will be sold in three grades – CV, CVX and Grande – starting at just over $40,000 with seven seats standard on the top two grades.

Toyota is forecasting 7000 Kluger sales in the first 12 months on the market.

The company intends to pitch Kluger up against the locally-developed Holden Adventra and Ford Territory in the burgeoning cross-over wagon market, sitting above the compact RAV4, parallel to the traditional Prado heavy-duty off-roader and below the RX.

Toyota Australia is convinced the all-wheel drive cross-over market is the coming boom in the Aussie market, eating into the traditional big and medium car market. Hence its interest in local manufacture of Kluger.

"If you are us and you are betting on ... future trends would you back a stagnant large car segment which isn’t going anywhere or would you try to identify the needs of those consumers who want this emerging specification improvement, the enrichment to their lifestyle?" asked Mr Conomos.

"We say yes.

"So whether it’s the Kluger or whether it is something else, it’s certainly where we believe we should be at.

"And the early indications are that both Ford and Holden know that as well, otherwise why would they do it? "They are ahead of us, they have got the chassis. We are not there yet with the current series, but we believe that if that market gets really serious then we can convert that concept of Kluger to local production." The key figures in eventually transferring Kluger – or something of that ilk – to local production are pretty steep. Adapting the Altona line to take the car would cost about $30 million, but expanding the water-borne paintshop would be "hundreds of millions" of dollars.

And you can add another $400 million to develop, engineer and style the wagon for the Australian market.

In parallel with that would have to be a substantial investment in personnel, with the company looking to have 500 engineers on board by 2010, servicing both local needs and the new international R&D centre announced earlier this year for Melbourne.

To make it all add up Toyota Australia would have to be able to sell at least 30,000 cross-over wagons per annum.

Toyota Australia envisages that would be alongside 30,000-40,000 large cars (Avalons) and 30,000 medium cars (Camrys) for domestic consumption, plus another 100,000 export vehicles, with around 70 per cent comprising Camry.

This year production at Altona will be around 117,000, with 66,000 Camrys exported and another 40,000 or so sold locally, the rest accounted for by Avalon.

The decision on local production of the third model line would have to be made by 2008, three years before the 2011 all-new generation Kluger.

The next all-new Kluger is actually due in 2006.

Toyota Australia has managed the rare achievement of gaining the approval of Toyota Motor Corporation to import the car mid-production cycle.

But it has not received approval from Japan for its expansion plans to the third model line, although Mr Conomos and Toyota Australia president and CEO Ken Asano have definitely been in there pitching for some time.

• Joining Kluger as new models still to come for Toyota this year are the updated Avalon, all-new Prius hybrid, 2.4-litre facelifted RAV4 and 2.4-litre facelifted Avensis Verso.

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